Suffering (And How Paul Never Prayed For The Persecution To Go Away)

Pain Suffering Christian

It’s What’s Inside

San Francisco Giants Pitcher Dave Dravecky

Dave Dravecky pitched for the San Francisco Giants until a cancerous desmoid tumor in his pitching arm required surgery. They removed half of his deltoid muscle and froze his humerus bone to try to kill all the cancer cells. On August 10 in 1989, after a long and grueling period of rehab, he came back to the majors and pitched eight innings against the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched brilliantly and he won 4 to 3. After the game he told the media, “It’s a miracle.” But just five days later, in the sixth inning against Montreal, during his first pitch to Tim Raines, his humerus bone snapped in two. The sound of it was so loud it could be heard throughout the stadium.

The cancer was back. And he not only lost his career as a baseball player but he lost his arm. When he was interviewed about it he said this:

“Nobody ever promised that life is going to be fair. Everybody’s going to have adversity. The only way to handle it is to take our eyes off ourselves and put them on the Lord.”

After all that pain and toil and work and sweat and grief, after all that Dravecky failed. Yet look how he responded. How is that possible? How could anyone respond to that kind of adversity that way?

What’s Inside

The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear? (Proverbs 18:14)

A wounded spirit, as I understand it in the Bible, occurs when a person’s passion for life is squashed (the English Standard Version actually uses the word crushed). A depressed person could be an example of this. A suicidal person would be at the extreme end of this spectrum. And here in Proverbs 18 we see one of many places in the Bible where God’s perspective on suffering is different than the typical understanding of most Americans and many others throughout the world. We think our happiness is mostly dependent on our circumstances. If I have the right job, if I have the right woman, if I get the promotion, if I’m healthy, if I can make enough money, then… I’ll be happy.

But God says, your happiness is mostly dependent on your spirit. “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity…” It’s what’s inside of you that sustains you. So even if you’re sick, or any other problem occurs–and for every one of us serious problems will occur–it’s what’s inside of you that sustains you. What’s inside is what makes the difference.

How Paul Never Prayed For The Persecution To Go Away

Ever notice that when Paul wrote to the persecuted churches he never prayed for the trouble to go away? Isn’t that curious? So often that’s not how I pray. When I pray for people, I often pray for someone’s solution, or success, or health, or prosperity. But that’s not what Paul did. So what did he pray for then? He was always praying for God to strengthen the inner man. For example, in Ephesians 3:16 he said his prayer is “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man…”

Paul prayed for God’s Holy Spirit to come inside of each person who made up the church in Ephesus, to strengthen each of them in a way that would glorify Christ in their current circumstances.

So it’s what’s inside that makes the difference. You can have the best possible external circumstances: money, and health, and love, but if your spirit is crushed, you’ll be depressed and unhappy.

On the other hand if you’re suffering, but you’re strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner man, as Paul prayed it would be for the Ephesians, God’s light can shine through you, God’s Spirit can live through you, and you can move forward with a passion for life.

You And Two Other Examples

Joseph is one example of this. We see God’s Spirit at work in Joseph while he went through much more than you or I will probably ever have to go through. (see previous post: How Joseph’s Dad Failed It, And How Joseph Nailed It)

Job is another example. God’s Spirit in Job is why Job has been an inspiration to people in suffering for thousands of years.

And then there’s you.

You can be another example.

Pray, like Paul prayed,

“…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man…” Ephesians 3:16

And pray to God persistently, like the woman before the unrighteous judge prayed. (Luke 18:1-8)

Pray.

What’s Next

So besides praying what else can I do to stay strong in spirit during my suffering? And what causes a crushed spirit to begin with anyway? Some say it’s psychological. Some say it’s biochemical. Some say it’s emotional. Some say it’s spiritual. But what does the Bible say? I was surprised. It’s much more complicated than I thought it would be.

We’ll answer these questions next week and in the weeks to come.

References:

Tim Keller teaches this better than I ever could. You can hear his original teaching here: The Wounded Spirit

Skip Heitzig, Christians in the Crucible of Pain, Connection Communications, 2012

Image via Bhope34 – Creative Commons

A Tale Of 2 Sufferings (How Joseph’s dad failed it, and how Joseph nailed it.)

pain suffering Christian

Alex at 7,500 ft. (2,285 m..) above sea level. (3,500 ft. above ground level)

A Tale Of Two Sufferings

I never saw this perspective before, but have you ever considered the difference between how Jacob handled his suffering, as compared to how his son Joseph handled what was arguably even worse suffering? I heard this last Sunday from a 20-something.

Joseph Betrayed

So Joseph’s seventeen, and he has it made. He’s his father’s favorite. He lives in a wealthy family. And he is given special revelation from God in the form of dreams, dreams of his brothers bowing down to him. But without warning, Continue reading

The Doctor Who Lost His Pain (And The Power Found From Suffering)

Pain and Suffering ChristianA Doctor Who Lost His Pain

Paul Brand had just arrived home in London after a long train ride from India where he treated patients in a leper colony. In his own words, this is his story:

I pulled off my shoes to prepare for bed, and as I did a terrible awareness hit me with the force of a wrecking ball, I had no feeling in half my foot. I sank into a chair my mind whirling, “Perhaps it’s an illusion.” I closed my eyes and pressed against my heel with the tip of a ballpoint pen. Nothing. No sensation of touch whatsoever. A dread fear worse than any nausea seized my stomach. Had it finally happened?

Every leprosy worker recognizes that insensitivity to pain is one of the disease’s first symptoms. Had I just made the wretched leap from leprosy doctor, to leprosy patient? I stood up stiffly and shifted back and forth on my unfeeling foot, then I rummaged in my suitcase for a sewing needle and sat down again. I pricked a small patch of skin below my ankle. No pain. I jabbed the needle deeper, probing for a reflex but there was none. A dark speck of blood oozed out of the whole I just made. I put my face between my hands and shuddered, longing for pain that would not come. I suppose I always feared that moment. In the early days of working with leprosy patients every time I took a bath I made a visual check for skin patches. Most leprosy workers did.

Rest did not come to me that night. I lay fully clothed on my bed, except for shoes and socks, perspiring and breathing heavily. “Welcome to the society of the accursed,” I thought. I knew all too well what to expect. My office files were filled with diagrams charting the body’s gradual march toward numbness. Ordinary pleasures in life would slip away: petting a dog, running a hand across silk, holding a child. Soon all sensations would feel alike: dead.

At last dawn came and I arose unrested and full of despair. I stared in the mirror at my unshaven face checking for patches. During the night the clinician inside of me had taken over. “I mustn’t panic,” I thought. Since I knew more about this disease than the average doctor in London it was up to me to determine a course of treatment. First I must map out the affected area of insensitivity and get some sense of how far the disease has progressed.

I sat down, took a deep breath, and jabbed the point of that sewing needle into my heel: and I yelped. Never have I felt a sensation as delicious as that live electric jolt of pain. I laughed aloud at my foolishness. Of course it all made perfect sense. As I sat hunched in that train, my body too weak for the usual restless motion that redistributes weight and pressure, I had cut off blood supply to the main branch of the sciatic nerve in my leg, causing a temporary numbness.

“Temporary,” I thought.

Overnight that nerve had renewed itself and was now faithfully spitting out messages of pain and touch and cold and heat. There was no leprosy, only a weary traveler made neurotic by illness and fatigue.

That single sleepless night became for me a defining moment. The next morning when I had learned that my foot had come back to life, I knew I had crossed a chasm back to normal life.

And I breathed a prayer, “Thank God for pain.”

 

The Value Of Pain

You know, pain has value. Sure it’s miserable in the short term, but ultimately there’s great power in pain and suffering, and I’m not alone in thinking that.

Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the best seller The Purpose Driven Life, recently lost his 27 year old son Matthew to suicide. But even before that happened Warren wouldn’t Continue reading

After A 13 Year Old Girl Was Murdered, This Is What Her Parents Did

Pain Suffering Christian

Pain

Pain and Suffering

We’ve been exploring the topic of pain and suffering and one of the worst kinds of pain and suffering is the kind caused by the loss of a child. The following is a quote from Wilma Derkson who lost her daughter at the age of 13. (You can learn more about the Derksens and their remarkable response to their daughter’s murder in this TED Talk video: TEDxManitoba – Wilma Derksen: When Polarity in Forgiveness Happens)

Losing A Child

For six and a half weeks we didn’t know what had happened to Candace. She just disappeared into thin air.  But everyone knows that when a 13-year-old girl goes missing then something is terribly wrong.  She was a child in a woman’s body, that moment of vulnerability when one minute they’re a child and the next a woman.

Eventually Candace’s body was found in a shack not far from our home – her hands and feet had been tied. Someone had forced her there but we lived with the mystery of not knowing who had done this for the next 22 years.

The day her body was found all our friends came to visit bringing warm food with them. There was so much love in the house that it helped us get through.  Then at around 10.30 that evening, when most people had left, there was a knock on the door and this stranger stood there. He told us, “I’m the parent of a murdered child too.” He was saying we now belonged to an exclusive club that no one wants to belong to. We invited him to the kitchen table and for the next two hours he told us in vivid detail everything he’d lost – his health, his relationships, his concentration, his ability to work. He’d even lost all memory of his daughter because now he could only think of the murder, the trauma and the hate that followed. –Wilma Derksen

Losing 10 Children Continue reading

Robin Williams and Suicide

Robin Williams SuicideThe Waves That Batter and Break

A friend posted this on Facebook the day Robin Williams died:

I don’t struggle with depression.

Not yet anyway.

I might someday.

My father did. Robin Williams did. I’m sure a lot of people you know do too, or have.

But I have seen it close up, and I have seen the way it comes in like waves, and I have seen it batter and break.

Last Monday night I drove home from Portland where I had a great visit with my sons Gabe and Nathaniel, and their families over the weekend. Kathy couldn’t go because of work. When I walked in the door one of the first things she said to me was,

“You heard that Robin Williams died didn’t you?”

Wow. No. I hadn’t. It was a shock. I heard that he struggled with depression (as well as alcohol and cocaine addiction). But even so, it caught me off guard.

The Great Clown Pagliacci

Also on the day Robin Williams died, someone on Reddit shared a page from the Watchmen comic that had this dialogue: Continue reading

An Open Letter To Those In Pain and Suffering

Christian pain and suffering

Dear Friend In Pain,

I feel so sad and so sorry about what you’re going through right now. I can’t imagine what it’s like. I can guarantee you that what I’m sharing in this letter won’t take the pain away. And I want you to feel perfectly free not to read it. If you don’t I won’t take the least bit of offence. I only want to share with you what made the biggest difference for me when I went through my time of pain. Continue reading

A Conversation About God With A 3 Year Old

conversations about GodOn the way to get my pickup tested at the local vehicle emissions station today, my 3 year old grandson Andrew commented, “It’s a beautiful day Grandpa.”

“Yes it is, God blessed us with this day,” I said.

“Where is God?” Andrew asked.

I thought to myself, “Wow, what a deep question for a 3 year old, this kid is smart.” Then I said, “God is in heaven, and He’s everywhere. He’s invisible. He blessed us with this day, and the clouds, and the sun, and the sky, and the trees.”

“Is God in our hearts?” he asked.

“Man,” I thought to myself, “this kid is really smart. Maybe he’ll be the next Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” I said, “God also came as a man, and he died for us, because you and I and everybody does things that are wrong sometimes, so the man who came from God died to pay for those wrong things we do, so we can be with God in heaven.”

“Is God in my heartbeat?”

Now I’m thinking, “Wow, ‘God in my heartbeat,’ that’s poetic, what an insight, maybe I’m talking to the next Billy Graham!”

My answer, “He will live in your heart, if you ask Him to.”

Grandson, “Grandpa?”

Me, “Yes?”

Grandson: “My leg is a part of a robot.”

Sigh.

The Holy Spirit: How to Know if You Have Him

kurt bennett:

Easily our most popular post. (from the archives)

Originally posted on God Running:

Pentacost by Jean II Restout (Photo Credit Wikipedia)

The Holy Spirit Better Than a Burger?

At church the other night our pastor directed anyone interested in receiving prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to go to the prayer room after the service.

I was amazed.

Only a half dozen or so showed up. On a normal summer Sunday, our church offers free burgers and the line is a mile long. How much better is God’s Holy Spirit than a burger?

I recently wrote a guest post about the importance of the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit for Not Ashamed of the Gospel and this prompted someone to ask, How do I know if I have His Holy Spirit?

The person asking the question is referring to God’s Holy Spirit being poured out upon someone in such a way as to provide supernatural inspiration. As distinguished from having the…

View original 964 more words

The Control Freak And Jesus

Control Freak

There’s This Thirty-Something

There’s this thirty-something in my life who is always asking me these great questions about the Bible: provocative questions, hard questions, but very interesting questions. And it’s caused me to look at the Bible differently. I read and hear so much about how the Bible is restrictive. But this person with the questions has got me thinking about the freedom God has given us. Freedom to make our own choices. Have you ever considered what’s not illegal in the Old Testament? For instance, prostitution is not illegal in the Old Testament, and neither is polygamy. I’m not saying that either of those are good, I’m just saying neither of those is illegal in the civic code given to Israel in the Old Testament. People are free to engage in these activities without legal repercussions, though the spiritual ramifications and life consequences are still there.

God is radical when it comes to our freedom. He wants us to have the freedom to do what we want, even when it’s wrong. And it’s really made me look at my own ideas about what God wants me to do concerning the behavior of others. Because sometimes I want other people to do what I want them to do, and I can get frustrated when they don’t.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you are there. Maybe you want to spend money a certain way but your wife wants to do it her way. Or maybe you want more time to recreate with the guys, but she has other ideas. Or maybe it’s just deciding what to do for dinner (not that this question would ever result in a disagreement). Whatever it is, our perspective changes when we Continue reading